A prominent Taleban commander who was killed last week in southern Afghanistan had rejoined the militants after being released from the U.S prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The news injects a new element into the debate over whether and for how long the United States can and should hold people it considers "enemy combatants."
Major Scott Nelson, the U.S military spokesman in Afghanistan, on Monday confirmed that Taleban commander Mullah Abdul Ghafar was killed along with two others in a clash in the South Saturday night.
"During the past 48 hours, Afghan and coalition forces' operations resulted in the capture of more than five Taleban leaders and killed a prominent Taleban leader in the Uruzgan province, Abdul Ghafar," he announced.
Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali says that Mullah Ghafar was captured shortly after the United States and its allies launched a military campaign in late 2001 to dislodge the Taleban from power for harboring the al-Qaida terrorist leadership.
"He was taken to Guantanamo and he was in prison," said Mr. Jalali. "He was released afterwards. And then recently we heard that he was appointed as the regional commander of Taleban in Uruzgan province."
The fact that the dead man was released from Guantanamo Bay and then rejoined the insurgents is likely to play into the controversy over whether, and for how long, the United States can hold such men without charges or trial.
Major Nelson referred to that controversy during Monday's news conference.
"We get criticized from one side for holding these folks, and they come back to the country after we have been told to release them and they commit of acts of violence against coalition forces and Afghans," said Major Nelson. "So what does the international community want? There has to be a balance here."
Major Nelson says many of the approximately 600 prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay are dangerous, and could pose a threat if they are not properly monitored by their governments once they are released.
Human rights groups have criticized the United States for detaining them without charges or trials. Some of the prisoners have claimed that they have been abused while in custody.